By Alison Birch, After18 manager
As Refugee Week 2018 draws to a close I am reflecting on what has been a generally positive and at times moving week. It has been busy, even by After18 standards, and it is clear that the young people have achieved much.
To give a flavour of our work with unaccompanied children and young refugees I would like to share some of what we were doing during refugee week this year.
The week started on Sunday (17 June) with the refugee takeover of New Walk Museum. Our young people prepared eye-catching banners to be displayed at the entrance to the museum. We also exhibited some artwork made by some of the girls the previous week when we visited artist Ruth Schwiening’s studio.
Ruth came to the UK on the Kindertransport in 1939 and has a special bond with the young refugees. On this visit Ruth and her cousin Anita showed them a collage technique and encouraged them to express themselves. The results were both colourful and moving.
In the early part of the week I was preoccupied with the arrangements for some of our supplementary school students to sit their Arabic GCSE papers. They have worked hard to prepare so we hope the results will be what they deserve.
Mid-week, while our project assistant Rem was busy preparing the summer activity programme, I was invited to attend the Leicestershire Law Society summer garden party. This year After18 has been selected as one of the supported charities and we look forward to working with President Bushra Ali over the coming year.
I was also at the same time invited to the launch of SUSPENDED in Leicester Cathedral. This is an art installation inside the cathedral made from the belongings of refugees taken by the artist from the shores of the Mediterranean. It’s certainly an opportunity for reflection.
On Thursday we had the first of our summer trips. A group was taken for a barbecue alongside the River Wreake, followed by the opportunity to potter about in homemade canoes and climb trees. It was a lovely chilled-out day, a chance to relax and play with friends, with wonders to discover along the riverbank. I learned from one of our young people that encountering a snail for the first time can be a magical experience.
On returning I attended the Regent College Awards Ceremony. A year or so ago, as part of our supplementary school, I supported a number of young people to think about their options for education and in some cases apply for Regent College. So, I was delighted to be invited as the guest of a couple of young people and to sit at a table of After18 service users as they won awards such as Outstanding Achievement and Student of the Year. It was lovely to see all the hard work and commitment throughout the year being recognised.
As usual the casework continued throughout the week. For the past few months I have been supporting some young people who have been given a “no study condition” by the Home Office. This week after quite a bit of advocacy this was finally removed for one student who is now very relieved to be allowed to sit her final exams to gain her qualification.
Friday night was party night. Our girls’ group is tailored to the needs of the young people and well established. Over time, with support, the group members have become more confident and empowered. They worked together to organise their Eid celebration, which was joyous, with some highly choreographed dancing, music and games. There were so many thoughtful gifts and encouraging messages for them from our kind supporters that the girls were whooping with delight at receiving them.
After18 strives to support young people to pursue their interests and assists with access to sports clubs. At the end of the week several young people were competing in sporting events, including the Refugee World Cup at Fulham FC which the Leicester under 19 team won… for a second time! Another excellent achievement to celebrate this Refugee Week.